The entire message of Genesis comes down to one thing: “You should know better than that.”

By Christopher Cudworth

Nature and eternity are foundations of the BibleThe narrative of the Book of Genesis begins with the creation story at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As such it is also a watershed in terms of competing worldviews. Some take as literal truth these fundamental ideas: God created the world in seven 24-hour days, created man from dust and woman from the rib of man, kicked them out of the Garden of Eden for cheating on a few rules set up by God to protect them, and then the trouble started.

Ostensibly sin entered the world through the actions of Adam and Eve. Eventually the nasty little habit of people doing bad things led God to wipe out most of the living things on the planet. That’s according to the legend of Noah and his ark, which is also considered a literal truth by those who consider that important to the verity of the Bible.

Having read the entire Book of Genesis over many times, and having read everything I can about the book from both literal and metaphorical perspectives, there’s a plain fact staring everyone in the face that is too often ignored. The entire message of the Book of Genesis comes down to one thing, something God wants us all to know. “You should know better than that.”

If you take the Bible literally, that is still the message of Genesis. “You should know better than that.” God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden. But they did. They obviously should have known better.

As chronicled in the rest of the Bible, God repeatedly tries to warn his chosen people and all those who would listen that they need to have faith and trust in the principles God has mapped out for the human race. Time and again people breach these promises from God and all hell breaks loose.

When wandering in the wilderness after being freed by Moses from bondage by the Egyptians, the Israelites complain and moan and create idols in defiance of God’s orders to be faithful. God is not pleased.

Later on in biblical history God’s people complain that they have no king. God tells them, “Pay attention to my guidance and you’ll never need kings.” But they insist, and the kings turn out to be flawed and tragic and selfish. Just like the rest of us. God tried to tell them. “You should know better than that.”

Of course the entire arc of the Book of Genesis ultimately points toward the arrival on earth of God’s own Son. That would perhaps be Yeshua, if we were hewing to the pronunciation of the day. To those of us reading various translations of the Bible, that man is Jesus.

Whose main message is that you should love one another even to a fault. You should even love your enemies. That is the only true path to forgiveness, grace and salvation.  Versus the ugly path our journeys take when we let our base instincts rule the day. In so many words the primary message of Jesus was an echo of Genesis. “You should know better than that.”

The people who really should have known better never accepted the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. They conspired to have him killed and succeeded in their mission to retain power and authority over the religion of the day. Of all people, they should have known better than that. Problem was, they were so obsessed with the rule of law and owning that authority for themselves, they could not see that they were the very real problem Jesus came to address.

Which brings us to the current day, and how so many people wield the message of Genesis like a weapon. They brandish a literal interpretation of the Bible as if it were God’s own words. But let us not forget––the real message of Genesis is this: “You should know better than that.”

God has been telling us the same thing for millenniums, yet people refuse to listen. They’re so busy being faithful to the idea of what the Bible is about they fail to see the basic message of it all. “You should know better than that.”

Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites and a brood of vipers for being so possessive of the truth. He blamed them for obscuring the true message of scripture, which is and always will be, “You should know better than that.”

So those of us who believe in evolution and do the honest work of reconciling the legitimate worldview of science to our faith cannot be blamed for for being the ones who undermine the true message of scripture. That has long been the work of those who patently should know better.

Jesus admonished his own disciples for failing to grasp the meaning of his parables. “Are you so dull?” he asked them. See, there’s a whole lot of truth that is healthily accessible through metaphor. That’s why Jesus taught in parables, to help people get a grip on spiritual principles by using natural examples such as mustard seeds and yeast to explain the growth of faith and the reach of grace. People “got it” because the truth was distilled to a simple principle.

Divorced from these cogent examples, the Bible really is just words on a page. We lose the symbol of the Lamb for Jesus Christ. We lose the foreshadowing of Abram willing to kill his own son Isaac. We lose the glorious fight that David engaged in for God. But we also lose the significance of the hugely flawed human being that David was, and why his sins hold true for us as well. Indeed, God did not even allow David to build a temple in His honor. God told David, in so many words: “You have too much blood on your hands.”

The patent irony of God’s decisive powers should not be lost on us. Even when you are a dedicated servant of God, not everything is going to go your way. Truly, you should know better than that. But just because our lives have difficulty does not mean that we are not special in the eyes of God. All things in the universe are special in the eyes of God.

For those of us with a hunger for attribution, the 14+ billion year history of the universe only confirms the special nature of our existence. The fact that for millions of years human beings did not exist on this earth, and the fact that 99% of all living things that ever existed are now extinct makes it even more special that human beings know how to survive. Yet we waste that gift of creation in so many ways. We have poisoned and polluted and abused our world many times over, and often in the name of God. Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Nothing in that phrase justifies abuse of the earth. In fact the word ‘dominion’ can be translated in other ways, especially to mean ‘good stewards.’ Yet that is not the legacy demanded by so many who take the Bible literally. They proceed with such force of will and selfish perspective it cannot possibly be the will of God. Yet they claim it so.

Remember that God favored David in many ways. Yet when it came time for David to honor God by building a temple in His name, it was not for that servant to receive that honor. That fell to his son Solomon, a wise man in many ways, yet also a flawed individual.

It was a harsh directive God returned to David. “So you thought you could earn the right to build a temple to me through violence alone? You should know better than that.”

That is the lesson people refuse to learn. Yes, you may have done your job well in your devotion to God. But you can also do it too well, which was the lesson for both David and the Pharisees. By being so religious and forceful that you miss the true message of God, it become possible that ego and desires run your soul when a share of prudence, consideration and metaphorical breadth of mind would serve you so much better than that other thing you do.

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age is being revised for release on Amazon.com

Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks with future Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and it’s a conversation for the ages

The following conversation has been transcribed from the official records of the first phone call between Speaker of the House John Boehner and possible future probably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The conversation took place two nights after the recent Republican landslide in the election. 

john-boehner-gaveljpg-6706b1f02a6d1dabBoehner: Hello Mitch? Are you there?

McConnell: Wait, my Bluetooth isn’t working. Is this Boehner? John Boehner?

Boehner: Yes indeed my friend! We won! We won!

McConnell: I know. I’ve waited for this moment all my political life. We really put a stop to Obama this time. Just like I said when he was elected. Remember when I said that? Then I said the single most important goal was to stop Obama for a second term. And I know that didn’t happen but now we really stopped him didn’t we?! We stopped him.

Boehner: He’s still President, Mitch.

McConnell: Yeah but now we can fix that. We can… what can we do?

Boehner: Impeach him. The House has been talking about that for years.

McConnell: Oh you guys talk about all kinds of things over there don’t you?

Boehner: We’re very good talkers. Now we’re going to be even better doers. Because we have you over in that Senate place.

Businessman Matt Bevin Challenges Senate Minority Leader McConnell In Primary ElectionMcConnell: Because we won! We really won!

Boehner: Mitch you have to stop saying that. You’ve got to act like you expected to win. That’s how winners behave.

McConnell: Yes. Not like you act whenever you lose, right? Because you tend to cry alot.

Boehner: I’m crying for the America that I love, Mitch.

McConnell: I know how you feel. I always looks like I’m about to cry. Well not cry actually. My face just naturally does this sort of pouty thing. I think it’s because we live south of the Mason Dixon line that things about America make us cry? What do you think?

Boehner: I’m from Ohio, Mitch.

McConnell: Oh yeah! Go Browns! They’re in first place you know! They’re winners just like us!

john_boehner8-620x412Boehner: So what’s the agenda over there in the Senate, Mitch? What do you want to accomplish?

McConnell: We want to stop Obama, Johnny Boy!

Boehner: Okay, sounds good. How do we do that?

McConnell: We stop him, that’s how! We stop him stop him stop him and stop him. And then we stop him some more!

Boehner: Yes, I agree. He’s had his way with this country long enough. But then what?

UkraineMcConnell: Let’s….kill Obamacare! Kill kill kill kill kill! We’ll hire the NRA if we have to. We’ll shoot Obamacare full of holes and leave its smoking carcass on the steps of the White House!

Boehner: It’s just a law, Mitch. It’s not actually Obama.

McConnell: It isn’t? Why do we call it Obamacare then? Isn’t that why everyone hates it? Because Obama is bad for America? He can’t possibly care for anyone can he? Other than himself and his socialist buddies?

Boehner: Actually there are a few things about Obamacare that people actually like. But the Supreme Court is probably going to get together and fix that for us before we have to pass any laws about it.

McConnell: Yeah yeah yeah! I love that John Roberts and that Scalia guy. What’s his name. Antonin? Yeah. I hear he likes to shoot things too.

Boehner: Are you talking about Dick Cheney, Mitch? He’s the one who shot his hunting partner in the face.

McConnell: Let’s take Obama hunting. Then we could shoot him in the face! People would love that. Think of the headlines. “Republican Congressman accidentally shoots Obama in the face!” I bet we’d make the headlines on Fox News!

Boehner: All we have to do is call them if we want anything on the news, Mitch. Didn’t you get that memo back in 2000?

McConnell: What memo?

Boehner: The one that said we get to write their talking points.

McConnell: They sent me a different memo. They said they’d give the talking points to me! Well whatever. It works either way I guess.

john-boehner2-1024x780Boehner: Speaking of which. I just got a call from the US Chamber of Commerce. They’re calling in the chips on getting all these Republicans elected. They want a real pro-business agenda before the 2016 election.

McConnell: Wait, there’s another election? I thought we won won won!!!

Boehner: Well we won the mid-terms. Now we have to get a Republican President elected. That would give us a Republican White House, Congress, Senate and the Supreme Court. What do you call that, a quadfecta?

McConnell: You forgot the Constitution. Don’t we own that too?

Boehner: The Constitution is a book of laws, Mitch. It’s not an arm of government.

McConnell: Well we have to stop this goddamned Obama. He’s the devil I tell you.

Boehner: That’s what Pat Robertson tells us anyway. It makes me sad to watch the devil get so much power in America.

Businessman Matt Bevin Challenges Senate Minority Leader McConnell In Primary ElectionMcConnell: How can we get our religious friends involved. What the hell happened to that Santorum guy anyway?

Boehner: He’s been in psychotherapy ever since that Dan Savage guy named some ass foam after him.

McConnell: But he’s a Catholic! He’s stronger than that isn’t he? Let’s call the Pope! Let’s get this Santorum guy working for our side again!

Boehner: Didn’t you get the other memo last week? It looks like the Pope isn’t really on our side. He believes in evolution, thinks economic justice is the responsibility of government and says that being gay isn’t all that bad. He’s really quite a socialist.

McConnell: Wait till Jesus hears about this!

Boehner: Don’t go there Mitch…

McConnell: Jesus was a Republican! He helped us win win win! We prayed to God that we would win and we did! We won we won we won!

john-boehner-cryingBoehner: Now I am gonna cry. It’s true isn’t it? Jesus really is on our side!

McConnell: If we grew beards we could all be like Jesus! Jesus, that would be something wouldn’t it John?

Boehner: I could be John the Baptist to your Jesus Christ! Plus, I think the voters already know we have a good relationship with Jesus, Mitch. Polls show that the same 30% who don’t believe in evolution vote in lockstep with Conservative Republicans. That shows that Conservatives are winning. Three out of ten people you see walking down the street do not believe in evolution. Our education policies are working!

McConnell: Hey, wait! I bet they don’t believe in global warming either. And if 30% of the people don’t believe in global warming or evolution, and 50% or so believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, that’s 80% isn’t it!? That’s a mandate! We’ve got a mandate to rule America with a conservative fist! We can pass any laws we want, can’t we?

Boehner: There are a few Democrats left. But most of them are Unitarian Universalists. They believe in anything. So we’ll get them sooner or later too.

McConnell: What about the kids? Do we have the kids on our side?

Boehner: Well kids don’t really buy religion these days. Not the organized kind anyway.

UkraineMcConnell: That’s okay. We control their student loans. We’ll jack those rates up to 20% and make them our Republican slaves. They won’t be able to afford to go to the polls. That will fix them. They’re the ones who voted for Obama in the first place. But we fixed them, din’t we Johnny? Because we won! We really won.

Boehner: So next Tuesday we take down Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Thursday we’ll nail Obamacare if they Supreme Court can’t do their job and then we’ll rub out the minimum wage so that people can get back to work just like Michelle Bachmann said. I miss that girl, don’t you?

McConnell: Did you hear her family got in a big fight?

Boehner: That was Sarah Palin’s family John. But just think! She could have been the Vice President, or even the President if McCain had kicked. Wouldn’t that have been something?

McConnell: It almost makes you want to cry.

john_boehner8-620x412Boehner: Almost. But I’m a little dehydrated. So don’t make me do that.

McConnell: Well, let’s drink to our success then! And see you on the other side of Obama. Let’s go get him!

Boehner: Heck yeah! Go Red Team!

Salvation from a liberal perspective

By Christopher Cudworth

PaversThe Second Presbyterian church in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania was our family’s religious home from my elementary school years through middle school. Then we pulled up roots and moved to the tiny town of Elburn deep in the cornfields of Illinois. My parents landed at a Presbyterian church in Geneva, nine miles east.

I got confirmed with a group of fellow 8th graders at a congregational church run by the pastor who was our neighbor. Then our family moved once again and my church attendance dropped away with obligations in high school.

A brush with conservatism

But then a group of friends joined Campus Life, the evangelical youth ministry staffed mostly by students from nearby Wheaton College, one of the leading bastions of conservative education in the Upper Midwest.

Most of us did not recognize the conservative ideology behind Campus Life when it first arrived in our town. We attended with students from other high schools, which was pretty radical for the time. So it all felt new and exciting in its way.

As the program grew and its participants were encouraged to dig deeper into the theology behind the feelgood high school ministry, I began to ask questions about what we were being encouraged to learn. Some of these questions exasperated the head of the group, who pulled me aside with a warning and an admonition. “If you keep asking questions you’ll never be a Christian.”

I ignored his aggressive warning and finished out the year with the group. But something about the confrontation made me even more determined to ask questions about the Christian faith and its teachings.

New laws

In college I received a C grade in a New Testament course. I failed to grasp that in that particular situation the path to success was to recite what we were being taught, not to question its verity.

As a senior I fell in love with a girl with whom I watched the television program Jesus of Nazareth. It’s narrative was basically traditional, but the emotion was compelling. My curiosity about faith was kicked back into gear. My questions about some notable aspects of faith were answered. For the first time in life I recognized the liberal truth of Christ. He resisted the wrong kinds of authority. He fought back against people seeking to control religion through literal or legalistic means.

Watching that program taught me that Jesus also asked and welcomed a lot of questions. In fact he won many of his most famous arguments by asking questions in response to legalistic challenges. I’d found a hero of sorts.

Narnian virtues

The summer following my senior year in college I took turns reading all the books in the C.S. Lewis series The Chronicles of Narnia. Christian themes were evident in the metaphorically fantastic story of a band of children who travel to a different dimension where animals can talk and evil sorcery is resisted by the lion known as Aslan. Much like the parables of Jesus the Chronicles of Narnia use symbolism to convey spiritual principles. That opened my eyes even further to the fact that symbolism is one of the most powerful forces in all of scripture.

Marriage and beyond

I did not marry that girl from college but our mutual spiritual exploration did have a deep effect on my life. When I got married in 1985 my wife and I began worship at a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregation because that is the tradition in which she had been raised.

The pastor at the time was a wise former campus minister who once gave a sermon titled “Liberals, Bleeding Hearts and Do-Gooders” in which he boldly challenged the growing perception that the Bible was strictly a conservative document. His main point focused on the fact that Jesus himself was a do-gooder, a bleeding heart and yes, a liberal. Scandalous!

When that pastor retired the church brought in a fire and brimstone preacher from the St. Louis area. He wore a wickedly bad toupee and spent most Sundays railing about an angry God. But my wife and I hung in there even when the church itself became an angry place to be. This was a new and not delightful experience for both of us. We loved our fellow church members and continued our bible studies, church participation and teaching. Yet Sundays often left us sad and confused by the near hatred we kept hearing from the pulpit. We talked often of leaving. But we hung in there.

Facts and fictions

Through a succession of increasingly conservative pastors for another 12 years my wife and I served that church in many ways. She took a job in the preschool. I sang in numerous choirs and ultimately had the opportunity to sing and play guitar in Praise Band too.

Our children were confirmed at that church. But during the process they both admitted exasperation at the manner in which certain “biblical facts” were being taught. The pastor railed against evolution, for example. Both of them had learned plenty in school that taught them science was a reliable, well-founded worldview. Yet both kids dutifully recited what they were told to learn for confirmation and the pastor praised them as model students of the Lutheran faith.

As the church grew increasingly conservative, sermons attacked evolution as a godless belief and characterized homosexuality as a nearly unforgivable sin. After 25 years our family migrated up the river to an ELCA Lutheran Church with open communion and even women pastors. God Forbid.

Questions and devotions

All through this process of growing up and raising a family, the questions I had about faith did not keep me from a certain devotion to God. All the journals I kept about my running through high school, college and beyond express thankfulness to God for the opportunity to compete and sometimes win. I prayed for insight through both challenges and triumphs.

My 25 years of service to a Missouri Synod Lutheran church taught me there was no special insight gained from conservatism. As a board member several times over I saw how decisions were made, or not made, by people with ostensibly ironclad convictions. How desperately wrong they could be, and in so many ways.

That confirmed many of the suspicions I had about conservatism in the world at large. Starting with Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, It struck that conservatism was far more concerned with ideology than justice. When Reagan installed James Watt as Secretary of the Interior, he openly proclaimed himself an adversary of the environmental movement on grounds of religious views. Reagan himself claimed to be a protector of moral values in America, yet the so-called Great Communicator branded ketchup a vegetable and played dishonest games through the Iran-Contra affair. The fact that people called Oliver North a hero for his illegal activities and seemed to worship his “above the law” convictions confirmed my worst suspicions about conservatism and its methodologies.

Chance encounter

Ten full years after I had participated in the high Campus Life program where that evangelical counselor confronted me for questioning conservative ideology, I encountered the same man at a McDonald’s in my hometown. At first he avoided looking at me, but when our eyes finally met I could see tears running down his face.

Immediately I went over and invited him to sit down with me. We talked and he confessed that he was upset about what he’d said to be a decade before. I told him: “There’s no reason to be upset. What you said to me did not discourage me from a personal faith. I still ask questions. But I still believe.”

Perhaps he was surprised. We parted on friendly terms and I thanked him for his service to Campus Life. It still strikes me that so many people find it hard to believe there is salvation from a liberal perspective. As noted, Jesus often answered questions by asking questions of his own. This was particularly true when he encountered people with conservative opinions trying to impose their convictions on him. Here’s one classic example from the Book of Matthew:

That Which Defiles

15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’[c]

And that, in a nutshell, is why I’m now a liberal and will always be a liberal believer. That liberal pastor in the conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church was also right when he preached the Jesus was a “Liberal, Do-Gooder and Bleeding Heart.” Salvation from a liberal perspectives comes through the very act of questioning false authority, and standing up for the social justice deeply integrated in the liberal Christian faith. That’s how it’s always been, according to Jesus at least.

How biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment

Back in 2007 I predicted the outcome of the November 2014 election

FlagWaiverIt took me ten years to complete my book The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. It started with an essay titled “How the Earth Was Forgotten In Creation” back in 1997. That essay dealt with the ugly ideological divide building between literalistic Christians and those who believe in science, evolution, environmentalism and earth stewardship.

But with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, and the obvious doctrinal politics linking religious and political absolutism behind the so-called “victory” that included equally obvious strong-arming of the political process, the book expanded in scope with every passing year.

Money talks

One of the emerging dynamics in the early days of the Bush administration was the corporatism in the entire approach to politics. Dick Cheney was so tied in with his Halliburton connections and war profiteering was clearly in place during the invasion and takeover of Iraq. Mercenaries were hired to fight the unbudgeted war. It was like pigs at the trough.

Then the Fox News phenomenon took hold through the Iraq War. The good people and conservatives I knew were sucked into that entire mentality. It was sad to see them grow in anger even when their party was in power, and entirely powerful. It was not enough to defeat their political foes and run all four branches of government. The language ramped up and turned into a culture war, one that resembles the divide between North and South during the Civil War. In other words, for all the changes, America has not really changed.

Except there was a new facet to the new corporal divide in America. Corporate money. So in writing my book I documented how and why this new component in American politics was going to define future choices of politicians. This is what I wrote:

The current-day battle between liberals and conservatives carries the same stridency and stubbornness that marked the American Civil War. The difficult question we must face is whether we can anticipate the rise of a new form of “confederacy” in the modern age.

The original, Southern Confederacy stemmed from dissatisfaction with the state of the Union and the future of government.  It might seem easy to assume that the Union was 100% on the right side of political issues in the Civil War. But no matter how correct the Union cause might appear in retrospect, the Confederacy was not by definition without virtue. As a political entity it may well have been justified in defending itself against economic and military aggression by the Union. And in spite of the notion that the ideology of the Confederacy was purged through the Civil War, the personal and political freedoms advocated by the South are alive and well today in modern society, woven into the politics of libertarians and other conservatives who contend that the best government is that which governs least. These principles the Confederacy sought to defend, and the sense of pride in defending moral principles has never been lost on the South.

However unfortunate it may have been for the Confederate South to secede, one can admire the determination of the movement as symbolic of the American revolutionary spirit. It may still be possible that partisan politics to produce an America divided over ideology, geography, oligarchy, or all of the above.

Perhaps the most likely scenario is the formation of a “neo-Confederacy” around “doctrinal states” or politics focused on “Red” and “Blue” states. Proponents on either side of the political fence have begun to see the value of the “winner-take-all” approach. We are not far from a moment in history when battles over doctrinal authority could lead to a new secession in the hands of the “neo-Confederates” and the states they represent. 

But there are other issues afoot as well. The next Civil War may be fought not in the fields and forests of America, but in courtrooms where armies of lawyers battle over the rights of corporations to control America’s life and politics. Corporate lobbies and revenue now influence every facet of American life.  The largest corporations and the individuals who run them have more money and power than many countries in the world.44 It is not a stretch to say that one cannot become a governor, senator or representative without the backing of corporations. A neo-Confederacy of corporate largess already exists in America, and it is not limited to the Republican side of the political fence.  It may not be long before the power vested in corporations becomes a self-fulfilling mandate and America will be forced to choose between its original model of a democratic republic recorded in the Constitution and a new, corporate society that is ruled by companies who run the business of America. Whether we have the courage to resist this takeover of American life is a question for our age.

And that is what has now come to pass. The November 2014 election confirms that the neo-Confederacy of corporate politics is officially, indeterminately in power. We’ll see if America has the will for another great Civil War.

The Genesis Fix.

The Genesis Fix.

From peaceful Muslims to murder of liberal heroes, Progressives have a right to be pissed

muhammad_ali_02aBack in the 1960s when Muhammad Ali converted to Islam, America hardly knew how to handle the religious convictions of a boxing hero gone faithful. Here was a famous pugilist choosing a religion that was not in line with America’s generally Christian leanings. And how could a fighter not want to fight for his country?

Then Ali (ne: Cassius Clay) did the unthinkable. He asked for conscientious objector status during the war in Vietnam. The United States initially indicted Ali on grounds that his beliefs were racially and politically motivated, not religious. Ultimately the case was overturned and Ali was granted freedom and the right to pursue his profession. Which ironically, was boxing.

Such is the complexity of liberal values, which do not always fall into black and white categories. But the lesson America has long neglected to recognize from Ali’s case is his defense of the Nation of Islam as a religion of peace. Ali stood as a religious Progressive, alone in many respects, trying to defend his right to religious freedom. He was willing to fight, of course. But not to kill.

Of course Ali earned little sympathy from the political right at the time. He was called a traitor against his country. Racial implications were rife as well, with a threatening undertone that implied that this black man should get back in line and do what his country (ne: master) wanted him to do.

John_F_KennedyAli was perhaps lucky not to be assassinated for expressing his political views. Other liberal and Progressive leaders of that era did not survive their public challenges to the status quo. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, as was his brother Robert. Hatred of the two men by operatives in the CIA, the mob and political conservatives was well-known. Some even speculate the Lyndon Baines Johnson was politically jealous of the two men and conspired to have JFK assassinated. Recently released information from the Kennedy family intimates their own concerns about that potential.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-1280x800-3It wasn’t long after the Kennedy assassinations that Martin Luther King, Jr. was also shot dead. The 1960s were a great period of social revolution but a deadly, punitive time to be a Progressive leader. Reasoned voices were silenced. The nation’s direction and policies were waylaid.

That is not to say that liberals were stopped from helping minorities work toward civil rights. Liberals and Progressives fought on, hewing closely to the liberal foundations of the very Constitution upon which America was founded. That’s right, the Constitution is a liberal document in that it progressively outlines the equal rights of all its citizens regardless of race, gender or even sexual orientation.

But that liberal foundation has required considerable effort to defend and protect. The fight has been compounded by an aggressive attempt by religious conservatives to essentially undermine the liberal values that guarantee freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. Conservatives have attempted massive revisionism by claiming that America’s founders were Christians, and that Christian “values” drive the republic.

jesus-blackCertainly there are reflections of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America’s commitment to equality. But Christianity as a conservative religious movement has a long tradition of ignoring its equally liberal foundations. Jesus Christ was anything but a conservative. He fought the conservatives of his day in the form of Pharisees and other religious leaders determined to wield power through faith, and to manipulate others through economic and social pressures. Those conservatives in power at the time were the very forces that turned Jesus over to Roman authorities to have him crucified. So the battle between conservatives eager for power and control with the liberal agenda is a long and ancient conflict. It continues to this day.

It was not about the “jews” murdering Jesus. It was about conservatives without conscience, to quote one John Dean, who wrote a book of the same title. That book ought to be required reading for every American citizen.  It documents the power-mongering conservative movement that threatens to engulf and swallow the personal and individual rights of every person in America. All for the profit of the very few.

Conservatives have worked hard the past thirty years to blur the lines between corporate and individual rights. Indeed, the Citizens United case was specifically driven to the Supreme Court to allow more corporate money into the political process. During the 2012 presidential election, candidate Mitt Romney blurted the conservative political belief that, “Corporations are people…”

John-Lennon-john-lennon-34078983-1024-768But he’s wrong. And he’ll always be wrong about that. That very statement brings to mind the cogent statement of one John Lennon, former Beatle and outspoken critic of insane conservative political and religious motives. Lennon said: “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

And what was the result for John Lennon in this world? An insane man shot him in the head on the streets of New York City.

Which brings to mind another insane statement relative to weapons like the one used to shoot John Lennon. Gun advocates love to say that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And so goes the insanity, and guns of military grade continue to proliferate in America, where children are shot to death in elementary schools, and gunman invade college campuses or stand up in movie theaters and open fire.

The rational, sane thing to do would be to pay attention to the real first phrase of the Second Amendment, which says “A well-regulated militia… being necessary for the security of a free state….”

And yes, the Second Amendment goes on to say that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. So protect that right, but also protect against guns getting into the hands of insane people. Set up standards that are hard to achieve because that is what is meant by the phrase “a well-regulated militia.” Because that is what is required for the security of a free state.

It works both ways you see. We need to question why people feel they need military grade weapons to walk safely on the streets. The police in communities across the nation are now militarizing their force in order to protect against the ramping up of military grade weapons owned by private citizens! That’s because we don’t have a well-regulated militia.

Liberals and Progressives have suffered far more losses and more political heroes to gun violence than conservatives. We need to ask 1) why that is and 2) how would conservative react if it had been their heroes shot down in cold blood?

Brady1We could take the example of James Brady, the White House Press Secretary who was shot while defending Ronald Reagan. Brady served a notably conservative President, yet when faced with the debilitating consequences of his compromised condition due to gun violence, Brady became one of the leading gun control advocates of his time.

But the apparently violent motives underlying conservatism is not limited to just guns, shooting and wars. There is a violent strain that runs through so much of the rhetoric of conservatism. Another liberal victim of gun violence was Gabrielle Giffords. Time Magazine carried this observation about her shooting. “Last March, at the height of the health care Gabrielle Giffordsreform battle, Giffords’ office was vandalized. She mentioned in an MSNBC interview that a Sarah Palin graphic had depicted her district in the crosshair of a gun sight. “They’ve got to realize there are consequences to that,” she said. “The rhetoric is incredibly heated.” The corner next to her office had also become, she said, a popular spot for Tea Party protests.”

So who really has the right to be pissed in America? Is it the conservatives and Tea Party that so aggressively state their convictions and are pissed about taxes, social welfare and progressive reforms on equal rights?

Or is it the Progressives whose heroes have been randomly, pointedly and successively shot down in cold blood for standing up for the equal rights guaranteed all citizens by the United States Constitution?

There is so much opportunity for progress in America, but only if people can peacefully come to terms with the real and true history of the United States. That is, our liberal heritage is at continual risk from a violent, intolerant, often racist sector whose worldview claims to be on the right side of politics and religion, but whose words and actions stand in direct conflict with those who believe in equal rights on the political front and equal souls on the religious front.

Constellations and consternations

OrionDating back 6000 years to some of the earliest records of human civilization, cultures around the world gave name to constellations of stars in the sky. Many of these are still used by modern cultures to describe star patterns.

At one point these star patterns were considered truly divine representations of gods, goddesses or creatures that figured in the all-important mythology of people seeking cultural narrative.

Of all the constellations there is probably none more potentially significant, universal or transferable than that of Orion. The pattern of stars in the constellation Orion can be seen around the world. With its “belt” of stars across the center of the constellation, and arms and legs extended, Orion lends itself to all manner of interpretation.

For example, In ancient Egypt this constellation was known as Osiris, a character who upon being killed by an evil brother rose again to live immortal among the stars. That story hews closely to the character of Jesus Christ, who the Bible says was betrayed by one of his brother disciples only to rise again and live on it heaven.

Universal convergence

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Orion_(best_currently_available_version_-_2014)It is an interesting thing to consider that so many heritages seem to converge in symbolic ways. Yet there is also supposedly an advanced worldview that dismisses the constellations as having any real divine significance. Modern culture has largely dismissed the heritage of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Asian or Scandinavian gods as “pagan” religions.

At least part of the reason we no longer abide by constellations as gods is that we recognize that constellations are not at all what they seem to the human eye. They do not exist on some flat or equal plane in space. They certainly don’t hang or conveniently travel across the so-called “dome” of heaven.

Bigger pictures

Space is an eternal, infinite place. The stars we see above our heads are literally billions of miles apart. They only appear to be fixed in space and time because our comprehension from this pinprick of a planet makes it hard if not  impossible to perceive constellations as anything other than an absolute truth. Of course many people like the predictability and familiarity of the Big Dipper hanging in the night sky. It is recognizable, constant and real.

Yet the Big Dipper is not a “thing”. It is nothing but our imaginations at work trying to find symbolism and constancy in the universe. Those stars in the Big Dipper are so far apart no human being could traverse them in a million lifetimes.

Human awareness

Orion_constelation_PP3_map_PLFor a long time in history the stars in the Big Dipper and Orion and Cygnus and hundreds of other constellations played an important role in human understanding of the universe. At the time when constellations such as Orion were recorded by early humans on rock face carvings 36 to 38,000 years ago, science was obviously not yet evolved enough to determine the real position of earth in time and space.

So we went with what we knew, and it served the human race well to establish guidelines for behavior based on ethical and moral parables in which the gods depicted in constellations sometimes played a part. They were there for everyone to see, after all. There was no escaping the gaze and wonder of gods staring down at us from above.

A single star

Eventually that notion of god above congealed into a singular deity called God or Yahweh or Jehovah. Even that singular god shares divinity with other religions such as the Muslim faith, whose early heroes include some of the same characters as the Bible. These were scriptural constellations of a sort. They share the same patterns and in some cases, the same values or attributes.

For some people, those scriptural constellations are quite literal in their conception and their place in history. For those believers, faith is fixed in the sky or the mind much like a constellation. It gives them assurance that their faith is anchored in the foundations of the universe. Their god still hangs above and their Bible or Koran is the constellation of wisdom. It shall not be moved. For those believers, accepting anything other than a literal interpretation of truth causes much consternation.

What good are they? 

It requires so much thinking to conceive the stars outside their constellations. They seem so unanchored and random in that mode. What good are stars to us if they just hang out there in the universe and do not reflect the patterns we impose on them to make ourselves feel relevant and fixed in the center of the universe?

There are people whose conception of the Bible is so literal they cannot accept what science has to say about the universe in contrast to what their religion tells them is true. They would rather believe in the fixed constellation of truth handed them by literalism than to contend with the messy, miraculous truth of life in a universe evolved from chaos and subject to laws of gravity, time and evolution that transcend the narrow worldview of constellations and consternations.

Fears and grace

Because what it all comes down to is the fear that God will not love us if we open our minds to the truth. But the gods of constellations seem to have departed once the real kingdom of God here on earth was revealed. The greatest constellation of all is love. It is what drives us to appreciate the grace of our existence in such a universe. We don’t need a pattern of stars in the sky or an outmoded take on the bible that contradicts itself in its supposed literalism and inerrancy.

You can feel free to live, to move around and find truth in the organic symbolism of scripture and not get tied into a harmful mythology that says outmoded laws and wrathful gods rule our world. We’re supposed to be brighter than that. Even Orion can tell you that.

Living in a world of redirected aggression

IMG_0169One of the interesting features of animal behavior is a phenomenon called redirected aggression. We see it in nature, which we shall soon explain. But we also see it in our cherished pets such as cats and dogs. 

Some people like to refer to their pets as “family,” and certainly our pets become reflections of the environment in which they live. Some break the house rules by exhibiting bad behaviors in response to anxiety or stress.

Pet owners struggle to understand these behaviors. Most are simply a response to tensions in the household. Animals like to “know the rules” and actually get nervous, scared or angry when their owners or other creatures in the household refuse to give them respect or clear directions.

There’s a lesson in that for human beings because we’re not so far removed from our evolutionary history as some people would like us to believe.

Avid birdwatchers often witness behavior in wild birds that shows how redirected aggression manifests in the avian population. If a bird is confronted by a presence in their environment that makes them uncomfortable, nervous or threatened, they will actually engage in behaviors that look like they’re feeding or cleaning their bills when in fact that are simply wicking off nervousness or anxiety.

This behavior has an evolutionary purpose in that it mimics normal behaviors while giving the bird an opportunity to truly assess the perceived threat. Often birds are torn between the instinct to fly away or else stay and try to protect their nest, mate or young.

So much of human behavior results from similar perceptions of anxious situations. Everything from real physical threats (as in a dangerous neighborhood) to social or work pressures that make people anxious or unable to wick off immediate stress can result in redirected aggression in the human species.

Only humans are even more creative in their expression of redirected aggression. More and more we see tattoos on the arms and bodies of professional athletes. Their “tats” are a form of redirected aggression. The punishment their minds and bodies take from the sport in which they engage are often too much for any individual to bear. Those tattoos are as such a creative cry for help in the face of the pressures of stardom and so much attention.

Same goes with piercings and other forms of human adornment. Warrior or tribal societies have long engaged in extreme distortions and disfigurement of the human body as an expression of social status, but also a bold statement about the tension between fight or flight. It is no coincidence that youthful rites of passage often involve some sort of mark of change or adoption of a sign of maturity. For some cultures that means scars or tattoos. For others it is simply growing a beard (playoff beards?).

In all cases the human species is giving off signs that there is a tension between the current and future self.

It happens in human religions as well. Religion is, in a strange way, the most common form of redirected aggression. There is a passive/aggressive component to every brand of faith. In Christianity it is a tight balance between Old Testament genocide versus New Testament theology that says “Love your enemies.” The faith is therefore torn between these two extremes, alternately sharpening its swords and turning them into ploughshares.

There is a cost to dealing with such tension. Believers find themselves stuck in a fight or flight mode, alternately wanting to defend the faith and yet follow the dictums of Jesus in which we are told to “turn the other cheek” and give up the cloaks on our back to any who would challenge us for them.

We are like birds on a branch staring down an intruder as the instinct to fly away and avoid a confrontation drives us to distraction. We wipe our bills nervously on the branch in an attempt to show in some instinctual way that we’re not really scared.

237b66cd98bed0d150c7f0536b749a57_650x But we’re also like cats or dogs, lashing out at our enemies even when they are not the original threat. We’re constantly redirecting our aggression and our desires in attempt to behave like good religious believers. Yet the facts show that the population of the states in the Bible Belt is one of the greatest users of pornography in all the nation. The perceived piousness of a strict church is much too much tension for the average horny male to sustain. They redirect their sexual aggression into a seemingly benign pose and hope never to be discovered.

We see the same thing with repressive preachers who turn out to be adulterers or gay like the people they most like to accuse and persecute for their sins. It’s all redirected aggression.

That’s the world we live in. It causes hypocrisy at so many levels, be they political, religious or civic. If we all just understood our animal natures a little better, and then accepted the fact that our inner animal is giving off signals of distress, we might be better at finding honest solutions and responses to our most pressing problems.

After all, even God seems to have expressed a bit of redirected aggression over time. His bargain with Satan in the persecution of Job comes to mind. So does his negotiation with Lot over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. These stories indicate that aggressive tendencies need to be understood in all their subtleties and gravity in order to be controlled or avoided.

Otherwise it’s all fire and brimstone, lies and manipulations. Living in a world of redirected aggression is simply not much fun. But tattoos are, because they venture into the realm of the taboo where we all reside in quivering wonder as to whether we are actually creative or the product of an environment where no one can be honest with each other. So we try to wear or feelings and instincts on our sleeves. And use any means we can to get there.